Russia responds angrily to Czech expulsions of Russian diplomats in poison probe

Andrei KonchakovMoscow has reacted angrily to the Czech government’s decision to expel two Russian diplomats from the country, in response to allegations that the Kremlin plotted to assassinate three outspoken Czech politicians using a deadly poison. Russian officials pledged to respond in kind to Prague’s “indecent and unworthy deed”.

In April, the Czech weekly investigative magazine Respekt reported that a Russian assassination plot had been foiled by authorities in Prague. The magazine said a Russian citizen carrying a diplomatic passport had arrived in Prague in early April. The man allegedly had with him a suitcase with a concealed quantity of ricin —a deadly toxin. His alleged mission was to assassinate Prague mayor Zdeněk Hřib, as well as Pavel Novotny and Ondřej Kolář, two of Prague’s three district mayors. All three men are known as fervently anti-Russian. Earlier this year, Hřib led a nationwide effort to rename the square in front of the Russian Embassy in Prague after Boris Nemtsov, a Russian opposition activist who was gunned down in Moscow in 2015. Kolář has been advocating for years for the removal of Soviet-era statues from Prague’s public spaces.

A few weeks later, the Czech state television’s flagship investigative program 168 Hodin (168 Hours) claimed that the Russian diplomat who tried to smuggle poison into the country is Andrei Konchakov (pictured). Konchakov, 34, directs the Russian Center for Science and Culture in Prague, which is an extension of the Russian Embassy there. Citing “intelligence sources” 168 Hodin said Czech counterintelligence officials believed Konchakov was a actually an intelligence officer for Russia.

Now the Czech government has officially declared Konchakov and one of his colleagues at the Center for Science and Culture persona non grata (unwanted persons) and has ordered their expulsion from the country. In a statement issued on Friday, the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the two diplomats of “trying to harm the relations of the two countries”. At a news conference in Prague, Czech foreign minister Tomas Petricek told reporters that Prague had “made efforts to settle the situation discreetly and diplomatically”. However, “Russia’s approach gives us no choice but to expel the diplomats”, said Petricek.

Speaking later that day, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, dismissed Prague’s allegations as “absurd”. The head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Sergey Naryshkin, called the expulsions “a very vile and mean provocation by the Czech authorities” and vowed that “retaliatory measures will be taken”. In a press statement issued in response to the expulsions, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the Czech authorities had “seriously damaged” bilateral relations between the two countries “without any basis”. The statement went on to state that “Prague’s actions will not only receive an adequate response, but will also be taken into account when forming the Russian policy on bilateral relations with the Czech Republic”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 June 2020 | Permalink

Czech media name alleged Russian spy behind poison plot against Prague officials

Andrei KonchakovNews media in the Czech Republic have named a Russian diplomat who allegedly transported poison to Prague last month, in what officials claim was a foiled plot to kill as many as three high-profile Czech politicians. Late last April, the Czech weekly investigative magazine Respekt reported that a Russian assassination plot had been foiled by authorities in the capital Prague.

Respekt said a Russian citizen carrying a diplomatic passport had arrived in Prague in early April. The man allegedly had with him a suitcase with a concealed quantity of ricin —a deadly toxin. His alleged mission was to assassinate Prague mayor Zdeněk Hřib, as well as Pavel Novotny and Ondřej Kolář, two of Prague’s three district mayors. All three men are known as fervently anti-Russian. Earlier this year, Hřib led a nationwide effort to rename the square in front of the Russian Embassy in Prague after Boris Nemtsov, a Russian opposition activist who was gunned down in Moscow in 2015. Kolář has been advocating for years for the removal of Soviet-era statues from Prague’s public spaces.

This past Sunday, Czech state television’s flagship investigative program 168 Hodin (168 Hours) claimed that the Russian diplomat who tried to smuggle poison into the country is Andrei Konchakov (pictured). Konchakov, 34, directs the Russian Center for Science and Culture in Prague, which is an extension of the Russian Embassy there. Citing “intelligence sources” 168 Hodin said Czech counterintelligence officials believe Konchakov is a actually an non-official-cover intelligence officer for Russian intelligence. Konchakov is alleged to have arrived at Prague’s Vaclav Havel International Airport on in April, where he was picked up by a Russian Embassy car and driven to the compound of the Russian diplomatic representation in the Czech capital.

Soon after the allegations against him emerged, Konchakov spoke to the Czech news website Seznam Zprávy. He strongly denied the accusations against him and told the website that the suitcase he was carrying with him during upon his arrival in Prague contained “disinfectant and candies”. He added that he would not, for the time being, respond to further questions, as he would first have to be granted permission to do so from the Russian government. Meanwhile, the Russian Embassy in Prague released a statement claiming that it had asked Czech authorities to provide police protection for Konchakov, because of “credible threats” he had received following the allegations against him by 168 Hodin.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 May 2020 | Permalink

Russia denies accusations it planned to assassinate two Czech politicians

Zdenek HribThe Russian government has strongly denied accusations in the Czech media that it dispatched an assassin to Prague to kill two leading Czech politicians. The denial was issued by the Kremlin a day after Prague mayor Zdeněk Hřib said he had been placed under 24/7 police protection because of fears his life could be in danger.

On Sunday, the Czech weekly investigative magazine Respekt reported that a Russian assassination plot had been underway earlier in April. Citing “sources in Czech intelligence”, Respekt said a Russian citizen carrying a diplomatic passport had arrived in Prague in early April. The man allegedly had with him a suitcase with a concealed quantity of ricin —a deadly toxin. His alleged mission was to assassinate at least two high-profile Czech mayors, Prague mayor Zdeněk Hřib and Ondřej Kolář, who is the mayor of a large municipality in the Czech capital.

The two men are known for being fervently anti-Russian. Earlier this year, Hřib led a nationwide effort to rename the square in front of the Russian Embassy in Prague after Boris Nemtsov, a Russian opposition activist who was gunned down in Moscow in 2015. Kolář has been advocating for years for the removal of Soviet-era statues from Prague’s public spaces.

According to Respekt Hřib filed a police complaint during the first week of April, alleging that someone had been following him near his residence. He was then placed under police protection, after —according to him— the police determined that his complaint was grounded in reality. He has since refused to state the precise reasons for the police protection —which means that the allegations in Respekt remain unconfirmed.

On Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the Respekt allegations as “fake”. He added that the Russian government “doesn’t know anything at all about this [police] investigation” in Prague. However, the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday that “there would be consequences” if the two men were harmed in the coming weeks.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 April 2020 | Permalink

Russian spy who tried to kill Bulgarian arms dealer is now a diplomat, report claims

Emilian GebrevA Russian intelligence officer, who was allegedly involved in an attempt to kill a Bulgarian arms dealer in Sofia in 2015, is now a diplomat, according to report published on Tuesday by the investigative website Bellingcat. The website also claimed that there is a possible connection between the intelligence officer and the attempted assassination of Russian intelligence defector Sergei Skripal in England in 2018.

In January, prosecutors in Bulgaria charged three Russian men with attempted murder. The men were identified as Sergei Fedotov, Sergei Pavlov and Georgy Gorshkov, all of them residents of Moscow, according to Bulgarian prosecutors. They were charged with attempting to kill Emilian Gebrev (pictured), a wealthy Bulgarian defense industry entrepreneur and trader. Gebrev was hospitalized for several days for signs of poisoning, along with his son and one of his company’s executives. All of them eventually made a full recovery. Gebrev’s lawyers claim that he suffered from “intoxication with an unidentified organophosphorus substance”.

The case had been shelved for several years, but the Bulgarian state revived it following the attempted assassination of Skripal, which British officials blamed on the Russian state. British authorities charged two men, Anatoly Chepiga and Alexander Miskin —both of them allegedly Russian military intelligence officers— with attempting to kill Skripal. In February of 2019, Bulgarian officials claimed that there might have been a link between the attacks on Skripal and Gebrev. Last December, Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor announced that his office was investigating the alleged link between the two cases.

Now Bellingcat has said that it has discovered the real name of one of the three Russian men who were allegedly involved in the attempted killing of Gebrev. According to Bellingcat, the man, identified by Bulgarian authorities as Georgy Gorshkov, is in fact Yegor Gordienko, who is currently posted under diplomatic in Switzerland. According to the investigative website, Gordienko, 41, is currently serving as third secretary at the Russian Federation’s mission to the World Trade Organization in Geneva. State prosecutors in Bulgaria and the United Kingdom are investigating reports that Gordienko/Gorshkov was present in those countries when the attacks against Gebrev and Skripal took place, said Bellingcat.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 February 2020 | Permalink

Pakistani Taliban leaders found dead in Kabul hotel, culprits unknown

Inter-Continental Hotel KabulTwo senior members of the Pakistani Taliban, who were carrying fake identification documents, were reportedly assassinated earlier this month in the vicinity of a luxury hotel in the Afghan capital Kabul. The culprits remain unknown, although the leadership of the Pakistani Taliban has blamed the United States for their death.

According to the BBC, which reported on the incident on Friday, the bodies of the two men were found in or near the Inter-Continental, a five-star hotel located in western Kabul. According to Afghan government sources, the two men were carrying forged identification papers. In a statement issued on Thursday, the Pakistani Taliban identified the dead men as Sheikh Khalid Haqqani and Qari Saif Younis. Sheikh Haqqani had served as the group’s deputy leader, and was a member of its leadership council. Younis was among the group’s most powerful military commanders.

The Pakistani Taliban said that the two men had secretly traveled to Kabul from Paktika, a Taliban stronghold in the east-central region of Afghanistan, in order to attend a high-level meeting. The group did not say who the two men were meeting and why. But it is rare for leading figures of the Pakistani Taliban to leave the areas that the group controls, and even rarer for them to travel to Kabul or any other big city in the region.

The statement from the Pakistani Taliban claimed that the two men were killed “in a clash with American forces”. But the BBC quoted an unnamed “source within the group” who said that they could also have been targeted by militant groups linked to the Pakistani government, which is a sworn enemy of the Pakistani Taliban. United States officials have yet to comment on this developing story.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 February 2020 | Permalink

Analysis: Middle East on verge of new regional war as US kills top Iran general

Qasem SoleimaniIn an act whose implications are impossible to overstate, the United States has assassinated General Qasem Soleimani, arguably Iran’s second most powerful official. In the early hours of this morning, the entire Middle East stood on the verge of a regional war as the US Department of Defense announced it killed Soleimani in a “defensive action […] aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans”. But Soleimani’s killing will be seen by the Iranian government as nothing short of an official declaration of war. Tehran’s next move will determine the precise form this new war will take.

The United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia have targeted Soleimani for assassination for over a decade. In 2019 alone, Iran reported over half a dozen alleged plots to kill the general, the most recent of which was in early October. Soleimani’s killing is therefore not surprising. Moreover, Washington’s move rests on a number of crucial calculations by the White House, which help explain why US President Donald Trump made the decision to kill Soleimani, and why he did so now.

In the not-too-distant past, some of America’s tactical security goals aligned with Soleimani and his Quds Force —an elite unit inside the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is tasked with exporting the Iranian Revolution abroad. The Iranian paramilitary unit helped Washington deal with the Afghan Taliban in the days after the 9/11 attacks, and its proxies in Iraq and Syria helped the US and its allies deliver fatal blows to the Islamic State. But in doing so, Tehran solidified its power within Iraq, turning its government into a satellite of Iran. The rise of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the Iranian-supported militias in Iraq, is largely a replay of the rise of Hezbollah, Iran’s paramilitary proxy in Lebanon, in the 1980s. Having painted themselves into a corner, America’s political leadership had to act. It chose to do so by essentially ‘decapitating’ the Quds Force, which is the main conduit between Iran and the PMF. It is worth noting that Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of the PMF, was also killed in the same strike. Washington’s hope is that these killings can somehow prevent —or at least curtail— the Lebanization of Iraq. Read more of this post

High-ranking Russian security official gunned down in Moscow

Ibragim EldzharkievA senior counter-terrorism officer in the Russian police has been gunned down along with his brother in a downtown Moscow street, in what authorities describe as a contract killing. One of the two victims has been named as Ibragim Eldzharkiev (pictured), who headed the Russian Interior Ministry’s Anti-Extremism Center in the Republic of Ingushetia in the Russian Caucasus. His younger brother was reportedly also killed in the attack.

Eldzharkiev assumed the position of director of Ingushetia’s Anti-Extremism Center in 2018, after his predecessor, Timur Hamhoev, was among several senior police officials who were convicted of torturing and extorting detainees. The high-profile caset shed light on the ongoing low-intensity conflict in the Russian Caucasus, which in the 1990s and 2000s was the site of two wars between the Russian military and local separatists.

Russian media reported that Eldzharkiev had been visiting Moscow on private business. Security camera footage allegedly shows the shooter approaching the victim outside the entrance of a building, as he is waiting for his brother to park a vehicle. He then shoots Eldzharkiev repeatedly before directing his gun on the victim’s younger brother, who was trying to flee the scene on foot. Once the two brothers are laying on the ground, the shooter approaches them again and shoots them in the head. The shooter then leaves the murder scene in a car. Both men died at the scene of the attack. The shooter remains at large.

The state-owned Russian news agency TASS said on Saturday that Eldzharkiev’s killing was connected with his professional activities at the Anti-Extremism Center and that he had been targeted by Ingushetian “religious extremist groups”. An anonymous security source told the news agency that the shooter is believed to have used a foreign-made gun to kill the two brothers. This was the second time that Eldzharkiev was targeted by unknown assailants. The first time was in January of this year, when two unidentified gunmen opened fire at his service car, injuring a member of his protection team.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 November 2019 | Permalink

Mossad chief comments on policy of assassinations in rare interview

Yossi CohenYossi Cohen, the chief of the Mossad —Israel’s main external intelligence agency— said he has authorized “more than a few” assassinations during his tenure and warned that more may be on the way. Cohen, 57, who took command of the Mossad in 2016, spoke last week to Mishpacha, a magazine aimed at ultra-orthodox Jews. His comments were covered widely by Israeli media over the weekend.

Cohen was asked to respond to recent allegations made by the Iranian government that Israel worked with “Arab countries” to assassinate General Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Quds Force, an elite paramilitary unit in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Suleimani claimed that several individuals were arrested last month in connection with the alleged plot. He also said that Israel tried to kill him and Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Lebanese Hezbollah group, in 2006.

The head of the Mossad told Mishpacha that Suleimani had not “necessarily committed the mistake yet that would place him on the prestigious list of Mossad’s assassination targets”. However, “he knows very well that his assassination is not impossible” because “the infrastructure he built presents a serious challenge for Israel”, said Cohen. Regarding Nasrallah, Cohen said that the Hezbollah strongman “knows we have the option of eliminating him”. When asked why the Mossad had not exercised that option, Cohen said he preferred not to answer.

In regards to Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, Cohen admitted that the Mossad has been behind a string of assassinations of Hamas officials around the world in recent years. “If there is one target that we eliminate without hesitation, it is Hamas officials abroad. [These range] from local agents to those who manage acquisitions of weapons pointed towards Israel”, said Cohen. He added that there had been “more than a few assassinations” in recent years, but not all were admitted to by Hamas. “The enemy has changed tactics. It is not quick to attribute assassination to us, for its own reasons”, said the Mossad chief.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 October 2019 | Permalink

Chechen shot dead in broad daylight in Berlin, Russian spy services suspected

Zelimkhan KhangoshviliAuthorities in Germany suspect that Moscow may have been behind the assassination of a Chechen separatist who was shot in broad daylight in Berlin by a man wearing a wig and carrying a pistol fitted with a silencer. The victim of the attack was Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, 40, who was a leading figure in the so-called Second Chechen War. The conflict pitted the Russian military against groups of Muslim fighters in the North Caucasus between 1999 and 2009.

Khangoshvili, a Muslim who was born in Georgia, was a bodyguard of Aslan Maskhadov, the self-described leader of the Muslim separatists in the Northern Caucasus. Maskhadov was killed in 2005 in a raid by Russian Special Forces, and Khangoshvili fled to his native Georgia. In 2015, Khangoshvili sought political asylum in Germany after two men tried to kill him in Tbilisi. The German authorities initially placed him on a terrorism watch list, but removed him after he began to collaborate with German counterterrorism agencies and participate in programs designed to de-radicalize Muslim youth.

Khangoshvili was reportedly killed last Friday as he was walking to his local mosque. Witnesses said a man on a bicycle approached Khangoshvili from behind as he was walking in the middle of Kleiner Tiergarten, a small park in downtown Berlin. The cyclist shot Khangoshvili and then immediately fled the scene on his bicycle. Police later found a Glock 26 semi-automatic pistol fitted with a silencer, a wig and the assailants bicycle. All had been dumped in a nearby lake. Later that evening the police announced the arrest of a Russian citizen identified only as “Vadim S.”, who is alleged to have shot Khangoshvili.

German newsmagazine Der Spiegel quoted Martin Steltner, from the Berlin prosecutor’s office, who said that Vadim S. had arrived in Berlin from Moscow via Paris less than a week before Khangoshvili’s murder. Steltner added that there were “indications the deed was pre-planned and may have political motives behind it”. An anonymous source from German intelligence told Der Spiegel that “if it turns out that a state actor like Russia is behind this, we will have a second [Sergei] Skripal case on our hands, with all that this entails”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 August 2019 | Permalink

Germany extradites spy to Croatia to serve 30-year sentence for role in assassination

Josip Perkovic Zdravko MustacGermany has extradited a former senior official of the Yugoslav intelligence service to Croatia, where he is expected to serve a 30-year prison sentence for organizing the assassination of a dissident in Munich in 1983. Josip Perković is a former senior official in the Yugoslav State Security Service, known as UDBA. In 2014, he was extradited to Germany from Croatia alongside another former UDBA officer Zdravko Mustać. The two men were tried in a German court in the Bavarian capital Munich for organizing the assassination of Stjepan Đureković on July 28, 1983. Đureković’s killing was carried out by UDBA operatives in Wolfratshausen, Bavaria as part of a UDBA operation codenamed DUNAV. Đureković, who was of Croatian nationality, was director of Yugoslavia’s state-owned INA oil company until 1982, when he suddenly defected to West Germany. Upon his arrival in Germany, he was granted political asylum and began associating with Croatian nationalist émigré groups that were active in the country. It was the reason why he was killed by the government of Yugoslavia.

In 2016, both men were found guilty of organizing Đureković’s murder and were sentenced to life imprisonment, a sentence that was upheld by Germany’s Supreme Court in May. Last year, a court in the Croatian capital Zagreb commuted Perković’s prison sentence to 30 years so that he could be extradited there, since the Croatian justice system does not recognize life prison sentences. A statement from the German Interior Ministry said on Thursday that Perković had been transported to Zagreb on a regular flight from Munich “without incident”. Perković’s extradition to Croatia also concluded a long-standing bureaucratic battle between the former Yugoslav Republic and the European Union. In 2013, shortly before joining the EU, Croatia made it illegal to extradite individuals abroad for crimes committed before 2002. It is believed that Croatian officials changed the law in an attempt to protect armed Croatian nationalists who engaged in criminal activity during the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s from being tried in European courts. Following systematic pressure from the EU, Croatia scrapped the extradition restriction and sent Perković and Mustać to Germany.

Legal proceedings to extradite Mustać to Croatia to serve his sentence there are continuing. Meanwhile, the two former spies have sued the German state at the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that they were not given a fair trial in Munich. Anto Nobilo, who represented Perković in court, said that the European Court of Human Rights is likely to rule in favor of his client and that he will be “released in a year or two”. If this happens, Croatia will have to re-extradite Perković to Germany to face a new trial.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 July 2019 | Permalink

North Korean leader’s half-brother worked with CIA before his death, paper claims

Kim Jong-nam murderKim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, held regular meetings with American intelligence officers before he was assassinated with VX nerve gas at a busy airport terminal in Malaysia. Two women approached Kim Jong-nam as he was waiting to board a plane at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on February 13, 2017. The estranged half-brother of the North Korean leader was about to travel to the semi-autonomous Chinese territory of Macau, where he had been living in self-exile since 2007. Soon after his encounter with the two women, Kim collapsed and eventually died from symptoms associated with VX nerve agent inhalation.

But a new book published on Tuesday by a Washington Post reporter, and an article that came out in The Wall Street Journal on the same day, allege that Kim Jong-nam was working with the United States Central Intelligence Agency and was in fact in Malaysia to meet with his American spy hander when he was killed. The Wall Street Journal article said that many details of Kim Jong-nam’s precise relationship with the CIA remain “unclear”. It is doubtful that the late half-brother of the North Korean leader had much of a powerbase in the land of his birth, where few people even knew who he was. So his usefulness in providing the CIA with crucial details about the inner workings of the North Korean regime would have been limited. However, the paper quoted “a person knowledgeable about the matter” as saying that “there was a nexus” between the CIA and Kim. The article also alleges that Kim met with CIA case officers “on multiple occasions”, including during his fateful trip to Malaysia in February of 2017.

In her just-published book The Great Successor, Anna Fifield, a correspondent with The Washington Post, claims that Kim spent a number of days on the island of Langkawi, a well-known resort destination in Malaysia. Security footage at his hotel showed him meeting with “an Asian-looking man [Korean-American, according to The Wall Street Journal] who was reported to be an American intelligence [officer]”. It was one of regular trips Kim took to places like Singapore and Malaysia to meet his spy handlers, according to Fifield, who cites “someone with knowledge of the intelligence”. She adds that, although meeting with this CIA handler may not have necessarily been the sole purpose of Kim’s fateful trip to Malaysia, it was certainly a major reason. Fifield alleges that the backpack Kim was carrying when he was killed at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport was found to contain $120,000 in cash. The Wall Street Journal claims that, in addition to meeting with the CIA, Kim held regular meetings with spy agencies of other countries, including China.

Meanwhile, two South Korean government agencies, the National Intelligence Service and the Ministry of Reunification, said on Tuesday that they were unable to confirm that Kim was indeed an asset of the CIA or any other intelligence agency. They also said that they could not confirm whether Kim had traveled to Malaysia to meet with a CIA case officer at the time of his assassination.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 June 2019 | Permalink

Malaysia releases second female assassin of Kim Jong-un’s half-brother from prison

Siti AisyahThe second of two female assassins who killed the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in 2017 in Kuala Lumpur has been released from prison by the Malaysian state, after a mostly secret trial. The two women, Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam and Siti Aisyah of Indonesia (pictured), approached Kim Jong-nam as he was waiting to board a plane at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on February 13. The estranged half-brother of the North Korean leader was about to travel to Macau, where he had been living in self-exile since 2007. Soon after his encounter with the two women, Kim collapsed and eventually died from symptoms associated with VX nerve agent inhalation. Huong was arrested on February 15, when she returned to the same airport to catch an outbound flight to Vietnam. Siti’s arrest was announced a day later.

Both women told Malaysian police that they worked as escorts and that they were under the impression that they had been hired by a Japanese YouTube show to carry out a televised prank on an unsuspecting traveler. They claimed that they did not realize that the men who had hired them several months prior to the assassination operation were agents of the North Korean government —which international authorities blamed for Kim’s murder. In March of this year, Malaysian authorities announced that all charges against the Indonesian woman, Siti, had been dropped, and that she would be released from detention. No reasoning behind the decision was provided to the media. On Thursday, it was revealed that Huong would be freed, after she agreed to plead guilty to a much lesser charge of “causing bodily injury”, as requested by government prosecutors.

What is behind the decision of the Malaysian court? British newspaper The Guardian said last month that the government of Indonesia engaged in intense “behind-the-scenes diplomacy” in order to have its citizen released. These efforts “significantly influenced how events […] unfolded in the courtroom”, said the paper. Additionally, the Malaysian government had been uncomfortable with the international attention of this incident from the very beginning, and had expressed the desire “to be done with the trial because it was diplomatically inconvenient”, according to The Guardian. The paper added that, as the international status of Kim Jong-un rose unexpectedly through his meetings with United States President Donald Trump, Malaysia sought to be “part of this conversation”. Kuala Lumpur thus decided that “the recovery of [its] relationship with Pyongyang [was] more important than justice for the assassination of Kim Jong-nam”, former South Korean intelligence officer Dr. Nam Sung-wook told The Guardian.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 May 2019 | Permalink

French ex-spy accused of plot to assassinate Congolese politician found dead in Alps

Lucinges FranceA former paramilitary officer in the French intelligence service, who was under investigation for allegedly plotting to kill a senior Congolese opposition figure, has been shot dead near a village in the French Alps. Daniel Forestier, 57, served for nearly 15 years in a paramilitary unit of the Directorate-General for External Security (DGSE) —France’s equivalent of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. After his retirement from the DGSE, he moved with this wife and two children to the alpine village of Lucinges, near Geneva, in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in southeastern France. He reportedly operated a tobacconist shop, served in the village council, and wrote spy novels in his spare time.

Last September, however, a judge placed Forestier under a pre-trial investigation for allegedly participating in a plot to kill General Ferdinand Mbahou. From 1992 to 1997 Mbahou (a.k.a. Mbaou) served as Director of Presidential Security in the Republic of the Congo. In 1997, Mbahou fled the country along with his employer, President Pascal Lissouba, who was ousted in a brutal civil war by militias loyal to Colonel Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Congolese Labor Party. From his new home in Val d’Oise, just outside of Paris, Mbahou has continued to criticize Colonel Sassou Nguesso, who is the current president of the Republic of the Congo. Forestier and another former DGSE officer, Bruno Susini, were accused of having hatched a plan to kill Mbahou. Their indictment mentioned “participation in a criminal organization” and “possession of explosives”. Forestier reportedly told the magistrate that he was a member of a group that planned to assassinate Mbahou, but that he abandoned the effort after conducting reconnaissance and realizing that the plan was “impractical”.

Forestier’s body was discovered on Wednesday “in a pool of blood” in a parking lot in Haute-Savoie, an alpine resort area on the shores of Lake Geneva. According to a police report, he had been shot five times in the chest and head in what public prosecutor Philippe Toccanier described as “a professional job”. He added that Forestier’s killing was “almost undoubtedly […] a settling of scores”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 March 2019 | Permalink

Holland recalls Iran ambassador after Tehran expels Dutch diplomats

Holland embassy IranHolland said on Monday that it had recalled its ambassador from Tehran after Iran expelled two Dutch diplomats, in a deepening dispute involving the assassination of two Dutch citizens by alleged Iranian agents. In July of last year, Holland announced its decision to expel two Iranian diplomats from The Hague, but did not explain the reason for the expulsions. In January of this year, the Dutch Foreign Ministry confirmed that the diplomatic expulsions were in retaliation to the assassination of two Dutch nationals of Iranian background. One of the victims, Mohammad-Reza Kolahi, was shot dead in the head at point-blank range by two assailants in December 2015 in Almere, a coastal town 25 miles east of Amsterdam. Nearly two years later, in November 2017, another man, Ahmad Mola Nissi, was shot in the head in broad daylight in The Hague. Both men were members of Iranian militant anti-government groups that the Iranian state accuses of terrorism and crimes against the state.

On Monday, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Stef Blok informed the Dutch House of Representatives in The Hague that Tehran had informed his Ministry on February 20 that two Dutch diplomats would be expelled from Holland’s embassy in the Iranian capital. The two diplomats, who have not been named, were ordered to leave the country by Monday, March 4. Later on Monday, Bahram Ghasemi, spokesman for the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confirmed that “two of the diplomats of the Netherlands embassy in Tehran were considered undesirable elements in the framework of a retaliatory measure and were asked to leave the country”. The Iranian move was not made public until last Monday. Blok wrote to the House of Representatives that, in response to Tehran’s move, the Dutch government had decided to recall its ambassador to Iran “for consultations” on how to proceed. Blok noted in his letter that Iran’s decision to expel the Dutch diplomats was “unacceptable and damaging to the bilateral relations between the two countries”.

Late on Monday, the Dutch government also summoned the Iranian ambassador in order to protest the expulsions of its diplomats from Tehran. It was also reported in the Dutch media that a series of financial sanctions imposed on Iran by Holland and its European Union partners in June —presumably over the alleged assassinations that took place on Dutch soil— would remain in place. The sanctions are against two individuals associated with Iranian military intelligence.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 March 2019 | Permalink

Alleged third suspect in Skripal poison attack identified by investigative website

Diplomatic Academy of RussiaAn investigative website has linked a graduate of an elite intelligence academy in Moscow with the attempted assassination of a Russian former double spy in Britain last year. Reports last year identified Dr. Alexander Yevgenyevich Mishkin (cover name ‘Alexander Petrov’) and Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga (cover name ‘Ruslan Boshirov’) as the two men that tried to kill Sergei Skripal in the English town of Salisbury in March 2018. Skripal, a former officer in Russia’s military intelligence service, the GRU, was resettled in Salisbury in 2010, after spending several years in a Russian prison for spying on behalf of Britain. But he and his daughter Yulia almost died last March, after they were poisoned with a powerful nerve agent that nearly killed them. The Kremlin denies that Mishkin and Chepiga —believed to be GRU officers— had any role in the attack.

Last week, the Russian investigative news site Bellingcat alleged that a third man may have been involved in the attempt to assassinate Skripal. The man used the name Sergey Fedotov, said Bellingcat, but added that the name was probably a cover that was concocted by Russia’s intelligence services. On Thursday, the website said it was able to identify the so-called third man as Denis Vyacheslavovich Sergeev, a graduate of the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Diplomatic Academy is one of the most prominent educational institutions in the country and its graduates enter the Foreign Service. However, many of its graduates are elite members of Russian intelligence, said Bellingcat. Earlier this month, the investigative website said that Sergeev traveled extensively in the Middle East, Asia and Europe between 2010 and 2015, using the operational name Sergey Fedotov. It also claimed that Sergeev/Fedotov was in Bulgaria in late April 2015, when Emilian Gebrev, a wealthy local defense industry entrepreneur, fell violently ill. Gebrev was hospitalized for signs of poisoning along with his son and one of his company’s executives for several days. All three made a full recovery.

Bellingcat added that it was able to name the alleged Russian intelligence operative following a four-month investigation that was aided by another Russian news website known as The Russia Insider, Czech newspaper Respekt, and Finland’s Helsingin Sanomat daily. But it also acknowledged that Fedotov’s alleged role in the Skripal assassination remained “unclear” and that authorities in the United Kingdom had not publicly identified a third suspect in the attempted murder. Meanwhile, British newspaper The Guardian said yesterday that it was told by Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borisov that a team of British investigators were “on the ground” in Sofia to investigate possible links between the Skripal and Gebrev cases.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 February 2019 | Permalink